Tonga will go into lockdown on Wednesday after recording its first community transmission of the coronavirus, weeks after being battered by a powerful volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami. The eruption shrouded buildings in ash, swamped the island with water, cut off digital communication and prompted an international humanitarian aid effort.
Two workers who were helping to distribute aid shipments at the Tongan wharf tested positive for the virus on Tuesday, Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni announced. The outbreak occurred despite efforts by countries and aid groups to deliver relief without direct contact with the island nation, which had managed until now to remain mostly coronavirus free.
The two positive cases were detected in Nuku’alofa, the capital, during routine testing of frontline wharf workers, local news media reported. The workers are asymptomatic and in quarantine.
Mr. Sovaleni said at a news conference on Tuesday night that the authorities were in the process of identifying from which ship the transmission had spread.
“We are working on it, and we have the record of ships that had been here at a time that could have spread this virus. We are looking at goods that were offloaded,” he said, according to the local newspaper Matangi Tonga.
It is unclear whether the new cases are linked to the Australian Navy ship the H.M.A.S. Adelaide, which has been stranded at Nuku’alofa since last week because of a power outage. The Australian government said that 23 crew members had tested positive for the coronavirus and were in isolation. The vessel had docked to deliver aid, and its cargo was being offloaded by machines, a United Nations spokesman said.
The authorities announced that Tonga would go into lockdown from 6 p.m. on Wednesday, with schools shut, mass gatherings forbidden and travel banned among Tonga’s 169 islands. Officials said they hoped the lockdown, which will be reviewed every two days, would stop transmission between the capital and the other islands.
The lockdown is another blow to a nation that is still recovering from the devastating effects of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption on Jan. 15, which unleashed tsunami waves of up to 50 feet that hit several islands. The eruption damaged the country’s single fiber optic cable. Many residents are still without internet, as repairs are expected to take weeks.
Tonga previously reported one coronavirus case that emerged in quarantine in October 2021. The country requires arriving travelers to quarantine for 21 days, and about 60 percent of the population has received two doses of a Covid vaccine.